During the first week of women’s history month, I had the pleasure of teaching ISTQB’s Advanced Test Manager syllabus to a room of seven women. This was not the first time I’ve taught this class, and it most certainly will not be the last, but this session will likely be my favorite and the most special. Research tells us that men outnumber women in STEM careers five to one, and this disparity only grows as we move up the ladder of leadership and longevity. Women leave tech careers at a significantly higher rate than their male peers, often citing bias, ceilings, and harassment as the primary reasons for changing careers. All of this makes a public class composed of only women in test leadership all that more unique an occurrence.
I expect the attendees of an Advanced Test Manager class to be highly engaged and comfortable raising their voice in class discussions, asking questions, and contributing personal experiences; as leaders, this is an essential skill. What I quickly realized as we worked our way through the course material and everyone got to know each other was an openness I had never seen before in a class. We were joking with each other and contributing collective decades of experiences and stories. I was blown away by the wisdom of these incredible women.
Because the conversations and experiences being shared were so good and insightful, I skipped a number of the exercises built into the class to avoid running out of time for all required material. The conversations are far more valuable than activities, especially when the topic is leadership and decision making, but there was one exercise that I had decided early on the first day not to skip. I really wanted the group to discuss the business value of testing. This exercise helps prepare students for the exam and always opens up really interesting conversations. The conversation I was honored to sit back and listen to was amazing! These incredible test leaders were sharing stories and asking questions, helping each other solve problems, and asking each other for advice. The best part was the shift midway through the conversation from how do we explain the business value of testing to our leaders to how do we help our testers communicate the business value of testing?
As I listened to the conversation, I kept trying to identify what was different in this group. What is that special magic I can bottle and use when this class runs again? And then it hit me in the face like a ton of bricks—with no men at the “table” we all felt safe in a way women in this industry rarely ever do. No one ignored or spoke over us, took credit for our ideas, or dismissed our thoughts. It was freeing in a way we rarely get to be free. I was reminded of the safety and freedom I feel in other women’s spaces like Women Who Test and the Women in Testing Slack community.
I’m deeply grateful for this unique opportunity to see women in leadership thrive and build community, and I’m hopeful for the future. So here is my call to action. Women in tech, connect with other women in our industry, advocate for each other, be mindful of intersections, and elevate the voices of our trans and non-binary siblings and women of color. And men, we need you in this fight with us—elevate women’s voices, call out fellow men when women, trans, and non-binary people are being ignored, belittled, or dismissed. We can make tech a more inclusive industry.
Special thanks go out to Angela Riggs and Bruce the Legend for helping me ensure inclusive language*.
*I tried to word this as inclusive as possible and am open to feedback or suggestions if there are better ways to communicate inclusiveness.